Sunday, September 04, 2016

A Strange One

I had plenty of time to think about running while driving to Dingle in the Saturday early morning rain. I did rue the fact that yesterday had been such a nice day and marathon day was going to be miserable but that was not my main concern. I knew that with all the changes in my training this was uncharted territory. I had not run a long run at any sort of pace and really did not know what to expect. Then again, the task of sticking with the 3:30 pacers didn't exactly sound overwhelming.

I met Donna before the start, having to apologise for not managing to get to Achill Island the previous weekend, and Aidan, who complained about not featuring prominently enough in the Belfast race report (for the record, he was a super star).

Shiny Happy People at mile 2 - photo by Chris Grayson
We got thoroughly soaked before the start but soon after setting off the rain actually eased and then stopped completely, and eventually even the sun came out. That was an unexpected turn of events, the weather forecast had been miserable, but a welcome one. The scenery in Dingle is absolutely spectacular and it would have been a shame had it remained hidden behind the clouds.

The first few miles just flew by. Chris and Fozzy were the pacers and we chatted pretty much relentlessly, and Chris even had enough spare time to take a few photos along the way. The effort felt ridiculously easy. I know the course very well by now but it made a nice change to be able to enjoy the scenery while jogging along at such a leisurely pace and being able to take it all in. Having run the now sadly defunct ultra 3 times I still associate the road from Dingle with being knackered after running 30 miles including a major mountain pass, and today this was much more enjoyable.

Easy at mile 8 - photo by Chris Grayson
Before I even knew it we were at the halfway point. Invariably, it got a lot more lonely from here on as the majority of runners are finishing here by turning left at Dunquin for the half, and only maybe 1 in 10 keep going straight and up the first proper climb of the day (the preceding ones all being classified as drags - that's my opinion and I stick to it). I had gotten a bit ahead of the pacers here but took it very easy on the uphill until they caught up with me again.

We did notice the wind on the second half. Usually the wind comes from the west and you feel it during the first half but today was one of those rare days when it came from the east, though it was no more than a bit of a breeze. We also kept catching runners that started to feel the miles, as it's bound to happen. I still felt exceptionally comfortable and had to reign myself in on several occasion, often drifting ahead of the pacers without even noticing it.

This got us as all the way to about 19 miles when I was a few seconds ahead of them again, and with the coach having given permission to push on from mile 20 I just kept going, though still not exactly pushing very hard. I did pass a lot of runners on that stretch though, but that was mainly down to them slowing down rather than me speeding up.

Some scenery at mile 14 - photo by Chris Grayson
I still felt comfortable at mile 21 when we turned from the out-and-back section onto the mountain but as soon as I hit the steep climb my calves all of a sudden, and to my utter dismay, started cramping in unison. That's an old problem of mine and I have a lot of practise dealing with it but I had not expected having to deal with it today when the effort and pace had clearly been well below race effort.

I just about managed to nurse the legs along while keeping running uphill and I still passed a few runners here. Only 2 runners passed me - unfortunately those 2 were the 3:30 pacers, the feckers. With the calves setting a clear limit to how fast I was able to go they kept pulling away from me and by the time I finally made it to the top at mile 23 they were far further ahead than I would have liked.

I had hoped that the calves would start playing ball again once I hit the downhill section but unfortunately that did not turn out to be the case. I still had to keep a lid on things and every time I tried pushing just a tiny bit harder a painful spasm told me that I was playing a dangerous game. At least the pacers stopped pulling further ahead but I barely seemed to manage to put a dent into my deficit. Coming down that last pass we have to run down a dead straight road for about 2 miles which can be utterly soul destroying because the end just does not seem to come closer. I checked my watch against the mile markers and tried to work out if I would still make it under 3:30 but started to doubt it, the calves still playing wrecking ball in a synchronised performance.

Thankfully they eventually seemed to be getting the message that I was about to finish and released the clamps, so I even managed to duke it out with another runner for the last quarter mile (I lost - I was never good at sprinting) but was mightily relieved to see the clock still at 3:29 and just a few seconds behind the pacers, who had done a sterling job on a very awkward to pace race course.

Still, having to strain to stay under 3:30 had definitely not been on my script for the day and I wasn't happy. I did not even bother to hang around but went straight for the car and drove home.

I had plenty of time to think about running while driving from Dingle in the Saturday early afternoon rain. I had serious concerns about my level of fitness and what that would mean for the European championships, now only 7 (!!!) weeks away. I did fire off a slightly panicked email to the coach, though she did her best to reassure me, pointing out that neither running at 8-minute miles nor hill work had been on the training program and I would be fine for Albi.

I can only trust her and hope that she's right!
3 Sep
Dingle Marathon
   3:29:46, 8:00 pace, HR 160
4 Sep
4 miles, 38:57, 9:44 pace, HR 133


  1. Did you consume many gels/energy drinks during the Marathon?

  2. Odd about the returning calf problem but good news there was no mention of hamstrings playing up.

  3. After reading all the way through the post how easy it felt it came as a shock to read that you got cramp. A sign that your muscle resilience still isn't where it once was.

    Your HR for the pace was also higher than most of your other marathons this year, a sign that your basic aerobic fitness still has some way to go as well.

    I rather feel in the same boat, I ran faster and further in the Spring than I managed at the Marathon I ran this last weekend. Both resilience and general aerobic fitness are down, I suspect it's a similar issue for both of us, doing long ultra's can create a lot of damage that takes a long time to settle, and once it has you are left unfit, not quite back to square one but sure feels like.

    I see you are already back in training so it looks like your bouncing back quicker than me, I'm shuffling round the house like I'm 90 years old.

    Fingers crossed doing a Marathon will kick start some much needed return of aerobic fitness and resilience for both of us.

  4. It must be disappointing to run a sub 3:30 marathon for you since you had run so much faster so many times, and I'm sorry for that! However, the most important aspect of running is to teach us acceptance of what it is. This was in the cards for today, tomorrow is another day:) Good luck at the European Championships!